TD History: Rev. Arthur L. Hardge: The Struggle for Justice

This article orginally appeared in the Fall 2002 TD Newsletter.

Rev. Arthur L. Hardge: The Struggle for Justice

Rev. Arthur L. Hardge
Rev. Arthur L. Hardge

The Reverend Arthur L. Hardge, a noted civil rights leader, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on April 8, 1927. He was a son of the late Rev. Elias and Clara Edith (Smith) Hardge. In 1929, the Hardge family moved to Jersey City, New Jersey where Rev. Hardge received his elementary and secondary education. Later, Rev. Hardge earned a bachelor of arts degree from Morgan State College in Baltimore, Maryland.

Rev. Hardge was baptized at 10 years of age as a member of the Metropolitan A.M.E Zion Church in Jersey City. At age 17, he answered God’s call to the Christian ministry. He was ordained shortly thereafter. Rev. Hardge’s journey, which connected his life to countless other lives, began with service in Zion churches he pastored in the states of New York, Oklahoma, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

In the early 1960’s, Rev. Hardge’s faith, courage, activism and leadership took him into the forefront of the civil rights struggle. An early colleague of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Rev. Hardge was in the vanguard of change. He took part in the Freedom Rides for civil rights in the Deep South. He was arrested for civil disobedience several times, along with other religious leaders, including Dr. King.

Rev. Hardge was especially active in efforts to integrate the Tallahassee Municipal Airport. As a result of his arrest and conviction in the Tallahassee Freedom Ride, Rev. Hardge was sentenced to 60 days on a Florida chain gang. Fortunately, a judge reversed the sentence after 10 days and Rev. Hardge went free.

In later years, Rev. Hardge recounted that the Freedom Rides were a time when faith overcame fear. The philosophy of faith over fear endured for Rev. Hardge throughout his storied life.

In 1968, Rev. Hardge accepted the call to the pastorship of Hood Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in Rhode Island. Under his leadership, Hood Memorial expanded its congregation and built a new church structure.

Rev. Hardge served as the first Chairman of the RI Chapter, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Through his leadership, he is considered to be the father of the RI Fair Housing Law.

Applying the principles of non-violent civil disobedience, Rev. Hardge led a successful movement to focus the attention of the General Assembly and the Executive Branch on passing this historic measure. He also served as the executive secretary of the RI Commission Against Discrimination from 1965-1968.

In 1968, Reverend Hardge became the first African American gubernatorial cabinet appointment when former Gov. John H. Chafee named him as the Director of the RI Department of Community Affairs.

Rev. Hardge’s commitment to Civil Rights and justice led to his appointment as Special Assistant to the President and Director of Special Programs for Talent Development (SPTD) at the University of Rhode Island. At URI Rev. Hardge was the first African American administrator, first among voices advancing justice through education.

In the wake of Dr. King’s assassination, Rev. Hardge assumed leadership of SPTD, a recruitment and retention program for students of color and disadvantaged persons. With his valued friend and colleague Leo F. DiMaio, Jr. Rev. Hardge fostered growth in SPTD from an initial seed of 13 students to the most successful program of its kind in the country, with over 1100 graduates and a current enrollment of 700 students.

Besides his involvement at URI, Rev. Hardge was also a founding member of Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) of RI. He became Chairman of OIC in 1967 and guided OIC from a storefront existence in South Providence to a multifaceted job-training and human resource center that provided services to thousands of people of color and other disadvantaged persons. Under his chairmanship, a $6 million, 80,000 square foot complex in South Providence was planned and completed. He also served as a member of the Executive Committee for the National OIC under the leadership of Rev. Leon Sullivan, OIC Founder.

Throughout his life, Rev. Hardge was a prayerful man. His faith guided him toward the path of the struggle for justice. Rev. Hardge’s work in the last years of his life (SPTD and OIC) are twin testaments to his commitment to opening doors for others. He was a man of faith and a man who understood the need for education and jobs. With all his strength, even as his
strength was failing, he held open the door of opportunity. He taught us that even great individual strength could fail, that every individual struggle reaches an end, but he left us an open door and a path to follow.

Rev. Hardge was a giant who walked among us and moved on. We still, in this historic moment, feel his presence and his leadership. Rev. Hardge’s achievements, his understanding of relationships, his great love of life, his powerful sense of humor, his intelligence and eloquence, are all there before us on the road, marking the way home to a more just world. Even after his death in 1983, the life and work of Rev. Hardge is still honored by the University.

In 1984, TD established a financial aid award in his memory. The Arthur L. Hardge Grant provides TD students with $4,600 each year. On Sept. 12, 2000, URI dedicated a memorial statue in the Reverend’s name. The statute, designed by Arnold Prince, father of Joshua Prince ’91, is located in front of the Multicultural Center and stands approximately 9 feet tall.

The memorial statue was dedicated with this statement written by URI President Robert L. Carothers:

This memorial honors the life and work of the Reverend Arthur L. Hardge, born in 1927, a man who led by serving his
brothers and sisters until his death in 1983, he was a child of many cultures: Africa, Europe and those first Americans who lived on this land. The great grandson of a man who had his fingers lopped off for teaching and preaching, Arthur Hardge had a passion for learning that could not be easily quelled. Rev. Hardge was a minister from the age of seventeen. He was a leader of the Civil Rights Movement, jailed in Florida for refusing to leave a restaurant reserved for whites and later becoming the first black man in Rhode Island to head a state agency, creating jobs and hope for those who had little of either.

Building on a program established by Harold Langlois and assisted by Leo DiMaio, Reverend Hardge later founded the Special Programs for Talent Development at the University of Rhode Island, in which ‘the Rev’ and ‘Mr. D’ changed the lives of thousands of young men and women. From those whom others gave no chance to succeed, Rev. Hardge built a new generation of doctors and lawyers, teachers and nurses, leaders of business and government, music and theater – the pride of this University.

It was, he liked to say, “always a pleasure.”